By Cynthia Laird

Bay Area Reporter 20 Dec. 2001

A preliminary hearing got under way last week in San Francisco Superior Court for two activists charged with multiple counts of harassment, threats and stalking against city health officials and members of the media. The hearing is expected to continue next month so that a judge can determine whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.

Michael Petrelis and David Pasquarelli remain in San Francisco County Jail. Bail for Petrelis is $500,000, while bail for Pasquarelli was increased to $600,000 after he was arraigned on additional charges.

The two face numerous felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from the alleged threats and harassment which, prosecutors charge, escalated in late October and November after a series of reports were released in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Bay Area Reporter detailing an increase in syphilis rates in the gay community and after a magazine comment concerning quarantine of gay men was attributed to a health official.

The preliminary hearing began last Thursday, December 13, before Superior Court Judge Perker Meeks Jr. Because of a previously scheduled vacation and because defense attorneys have other cases, Meeks continues the hearing on January 23.

According to charges filed by Assistant District Attorney Machaela Hoctor, Petrelis faces on felony count of conspiracy, three counts of felony stalking, four counts of felony terrorist threats, and 11 counts of misdemeanor harassment.

Pasquarelli, a member of AC UP/San Francisco, was arrested on one count of felony conspiracy, two counts of felony stalking, four counts of felony terrorist threats, three counts of misdemeanor harassment, and two counts of violating a restraining order, also misdemeanors.

The men were arrested November 23 as they exited another courtroom where a hearing was heard of civil restraining orders against them. They have denied the criminal charges, and have stated that while some calls were made, they never threatened anyone, spoke to children, or placed bomb threats, as alleged by the Chronicle.

Three witnesses testified last week. All work for the DPH and received recounted various incidents where they received phone calls or faxes from Petrelis or Pasquarelli they considered threatening, harassing, and obscene. Tape recordings of the phone calls were played in court.

Eileen Shield, public information officer for the DPH, testified that on October 29 she received a call from Petrelis in which he asked, "Do you penis in your mouth performing oral sex?"

"I was stunned, shocked," Shields told the court of her reaction to the call. "I just said, 'My God, Michael' and hung up."

Shields, who told the court that she has spoken with Petrelis and Pasquarelli on numerous occasions over the years, said that this time, there seemed to be an escalation in their calls.

She told the court of a call that she received from Pasquarelli in which he revealed that he knew her home address and phone number. "I was furious," she said. Days later, she said, she received an e-mail in which her home phone number and address were listed. "It asked people to come to my house, to call me, [and said] that said I was spreading lies about gay men. I was very frightened because it was a new level for ACT UP. It never involved my home. This ramping up...was frightening," Shields testified.

She told the court that she feared for her safety and would repeatedly look around here neighborhood for the men when she arrived home from work. On one occasion she received a phone call just after getting home. "I was worried he was perhaps near my house," she said.

Shields, who lives alone, testified that the calls affected her concentration at work and that she advertised for a roommate. "I would look over my shoulder alot," she said.

There were more calls, Shields said, including one from Pasquarelli in which he asked her if she was a Nazi, and ranting that gays would not be "cooked in the chamber" and that Shields would be quarantined if she didn't "stop spreading lies."

On cross-examination, Mark Vermeulen, Pasquarelli's attorney, asked if the men did things to her house.

"No," she replied.

Stuart Blumstein, Petrelis' attorney, asked when she filed the police report. Shields said she called the police on November 12.

Next Witness

Dr. Willi McFarland, an epidemiologist with DPH, was the next witness. He testified that as far back as June 2000 the men said they were watching him.

On November 7, 2001, McFarland said, Petrelis called his home and his wife answered. He asked over and over again if McFarland had syphilis. Petrelis called again, McFarland testified, and his 9-year-old daughter picked up the phone. "She said, 'It's Michael Petrelis and he asked for you," McFarland said.

More calls came to his home, McFarland said, and his wife and his daughter became very upset.

At November 8 HIV prevention Planning Council Meeting, McFarland said he was giving a presentation. Petrelis and Pasquarelli were there. Petrelis kept walking around closely behind McFarland, and Pasquarelli handed him a swastika.

"I took it as a sign that they were going to continue," McFarland said. Late at night he got a call from Petrelis accusing him of "inciting violence against gay men."

He daughter became more upset, saying she was afraid they were going to come to the house and stared crying at night, McFarland testified. He too, called police and filed a report.

On cross-examination, Blumstein asked McFarland if Petrelis ever touched him at a public meeting. "Yes he has," McFarland answered.

McFarland testified at a Board of Supervisors committee hearing in August of 2000, Petrelis placed his hand on McFarland's shoulder and said, "I'll see you soon."

Klausner takes the stand

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, head of DPH' sexually transmitted disease unit, was the third witness. He testified that he has been on the receiving end of phone calls from Petrelis and Pasquarelli for years. He told the court the received a phone call from Pasquarelli on October 26 demanding the number of syphilis tests given in San Francisco for 1999, 2000, and 2001.

"We can do this the easy way or the hard way where members of ACT UP/SF come down to visit," Pasquarelli said in a taped phone message to Klausner that Hoctor played in court.

"I was scared," Klausner testified. He recounted an earlier incident two years ago when ACT UP/SF members allegedly came to his office and "terrorized my staff and vandalized the office with graffiti."

"The number of tests was not something that I could provide," Klausner said. "They are latching onto something impossible."

He said that never, in the years that he has worked for the city, had the men called him at home until recently. Like McFarland, Klausner said that his wife picked up the phone to hear Petrelis ranting about "syphilitic dicks" and became very upset.

Klausner said he called police, and had their home phone number changed.

Klausner also testified about fliers made by ACTUP/SF that portrayed him as a Nazi with "KKKlausner" in an effort to mock his stutter. Hoctor then played a tape of a call to Klausner from Pasquarelli, "Good evening typhoid Jeff-Jeff-Jeffrey Klausner. Your days of harassing gay men from the pulpit of the Health department are coming to an end. This is your warning."

On cross-examination, Vermeulen asked Klausner about security at his office. Klausner said that he had gone to Health Director Dr. Mitch Katz with is concerns, but that Katz downplayed the calls, and attempted to reassure Klausner that the two men were not physically violent.

"However, I know he [Katz] tries to gloss things over, " Klausner said.

Regarding a comment about quarantine of gay men that was attributed to Klausner in a recent Washington Monthly article, he said that the writer paraphrased the discussions.

"I did not specifically raise the issue of quarantine," Klausner said.

"Did you ever request clarification or a retraction?" Vermeulen asked.

"I requested the author write letters to the local papers with a clarification," Klausner answered.

Klausner also testified that the calls from the activists stopped after they were served with temporary restraining orders.